UK Looking Into Lengthy Processes to Shorten Consenting Times for Major Infrastructure Projects

The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), on request from the UK government, will conduct a study on the infrastructure planning system and National Policy Statements (NPSs). The study will have a special focus on the lengthy consenting processes for major infrastructure projects such as offshore wind farms. The NIC will deliver the final report to the government in the Spring.

Illustration; Photo source: Ørsted (archive)

NPSs are supporting decisions on applications for development consent and are a key part of the system for managing the UK’s Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs).

According to the UK government, prior to the NSIP system, major infrastructure projects took significantly more time to go through the planning process. Here, the government cites an example of the consenting times for the Norfolk Boreas offshore wind farm and Sizewell B nuclear power station. While Vattenfall’s 1.8 GW project received its Development Consent Order (DCO) in two and a half years, under the regime, it took seven years for the nuclear power station to be consented under the previous framework.

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Now, however, the regime that had earlier accelerated the DCO process has slowed, with offshore wind projects taking up to four years to get to a DCO decision, the UK government pointed out.

“Where NPSs do not have effect (under s.105 of the Planning Act) or where NPSs have been designated without review for a long period, time in examinations can be spent debating the need case of a particular project and infrastructure in order to agree the policy framework for that application. This can take significant time which can be avoided through updated NPSs which put the needs case beyond doubt”, the government states.

This month, the Chancellor and Minister for Local Government and Building Safety commissioned the NIC to undertake the review of the current approach to NPSs.

The Commission will review whether the current process of reviewing NPSs every five years is proving effective, and identify how the planning system could create greater certainty for infrastructure investors, developers and local communities.

The NIC’s report, due this Spring, will set out recommendations for what could be done to address the speed of consenting to help deliver the major infrastructure projects in the UK. The report will propose short and longer-term actions for the government on infrastructure planning, building on existing government plans for reform in this area.

The review has been commissioned as the government prepares to publish an Action Plan on Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs), a cross-government action plan which will outline all of the reforms to the NSIP regime that will be brought forward to ensure the system can support future infrastructure needs.

Back in 2020, through the National Infrastructure Strategy, the government established a National Infrastructure Planning Reform Programme to make the NSIP system more effective and deliver more certainty in the process and better and faster outcomes.

Last year, the UK government also announced planning reforms on renewable energy projects as part of the British Energy Security Strategy.

As reported in April 2022, the UK government set an increased target of up to 50 GW of operating offshore wind capacity by 2030 and issued the British Energy Security Strategy which set out the new planning reforms to cut the approval times for new offshore wind farms from four years to one year.

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